Phnom Penh is a hectic, bustling, jostling city, full of smog and smells. For those of us with a full-time job, it can be hard to find breathing space and an opportunity to unwind. That is, unless you’ve already been lucky enough to discover The Bungalows.
Floating next to the banks of the Mekong, guests are ferried to The Bungalows by boat and the 20-minute journey helps those aboard feel like they’re experiencing a proper getaway.
Mid-afternoon onboard one of the sister boats – the Mayfly or the Butterfly – is almost a Merchant Ivory experience. Drinks are served amid genteel surroundings, while parasols, deck chairs and lanterns give a distinctly Edwardian feel as travellers enjoy a novel view of the fast changing city once known as the ‘pearl of Asia’.
Arriving at The Bungalows, visitors relax on a variety of sofas and wicker chairs set out on decks facing the approaching sunset.
There are less than 30 spaces for guests and manager George Norbert-Munns says that he won’t make room for anymore, believing that it’s the chilled-out feel of the place which makes it so special.
“We’re not trying to be flashy”, he says, “We just want a relaxing place for people to unwind”.
The bar menu is simple but satisfying, offering decent red and white wines, cold beers and a small selection of straightforward cocktails. Food-wise, there are only antipasti platters on offer, but the boats are timed to get hungry visitors back in time for dinner. The plates are an unusual combination of components: two good cheeses, crackers, wasabi peas, green olives, a sun- dried tomato tapenade, and a pile of lychees. Overall an appetising accompaniment to several cold drinks.
The simple wooden structures bob slightly on the waters of the Mekong: not enough to induce seasickness, but a gentle dip and nod as the river laps the edges of the bungalows; enough to create a tranquilising seaside holiday sensation.
Over a few hours, drinkers watch the sun set behind the Phnom Penh skyline and gaze at the river as it turns from greenish-brown to inky-black. Along the bank, other floating structures turn on their electricity and send out sparks of light across the water as the city illuminates on the opposite shore.
As if an evening at The Bungalows could get more soothing, they have their own tribe of mongrel puppies – adopted by the security guard and sponsored by Norbert-Munns – who gambol around the decks and are happy to be picked up and cuddled.
At 7pm, the boats return to the pontoon at Titanic pier and guests wander off to continue their evening.
The Bungalows were originally conceived of as a floating hotel, but when the idea didn’t get off the ground, Norbert-Munns proposed to the owner that they could be turned into a bar. A small and prettily furnished room has been kept and can be rented for an overnight stay during the dry season.
The venue can also be hired for functions and celebrations during the week; they’re officially only open on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Whether it’s a location for a party with friends you’re after, or a place to quietly sink a few gins with a spectacular view, The Bungalows are a great getaway without the bus ride.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Brown at [email protected]